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United States Ex Rel. Chester v. Pfister

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 23, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. OMARR CHESTER, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY PFISTER, Warden, Pontiac Correctional Center, Respondent.

ORDER

RONALD A. GUZMAN, District Judge.

Petitioner Omarr Chester's § 2254 Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [1] is denied. No certificate of appealability shall issue.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Omarr Chester ("Petitioner") was convicted of aggravated hijacking in 2005 after an Illinois state court jury trial. He has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1). For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the petition.

Factual Background

The following facts are drawn from the Illinois Appellate Court's opinion in Petitioner's direct appeal, People v. Chester, No. 1-06-2789 at 2-5 (Ill.App.Ct. Jul. 11, 2008) (Gov't Ex. D, Dkt. # 18.) The Court presumes that the state court's factual findings are correct for the purposes of habeas review, and Petitioner bears the burden of rebutting such findings by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

On the night of October 28, 2005, Carl Carter ("Carter") was stopped at a gas station fueling his 1998 Ford Expedition when he was approached from behind by a man in a hooded black jacket. Carter felt something hard pressed into his back, and heard the man say "You know what this is." Upon turning around, Carter looked first at the man's face and then down to the man's hand where he saw a nickel-plated 9 mm handgun. The man demanded the car keys and Carter relinquished them, after which the man sped away in Carter's vehicle. Carter asked a nearby woman to help him follow his car, and the two pursued the vehicle until losing it at a traffic light. While they were following the car, Carter called 911 to report the theft and tell the dispatcher the stolen car's location. Among other possessions that were in Carter's vehicle at the time of the theft was a cell phone bill that included Carter's number.

The next day, Carter received a call on his cell phone from a blocked number. The caller was male, and offered to return Carter's car for $2, 500.00. On this call, Carter and the unidentified caller arranged to meet at a gas station to make the exchange. Carter immediately called the police and arranged for detectives to meet him near the spot designated for the exchange. While meeting with the officers, Carter received multiple additional calls from a blocked number and put them on speaker phone so the officers could listen. On these calls the caller was female, and she asked if Carter had the money and reiterated the place he was to go for the exchange. After officers drove around the meeting place and failed to locate Carter's stolen vehicle, Carter himself decided to drive around the area and noticed his car in a parking lot. He called the police and they set up surveillance around the vehicle. A short time later, officers arrested two men upon seeing them enter the car. Petitioner was the man in the driver's seat and had Carter's keys in his possession. At a lineup that night in the police station, Carter identified Petitioner as the man who had stolen his car keys at gunpoint.

Petitioner was charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking and was brought to trial before a jury. At the start of trial, defense counsel moved in limine to exclude a voicemail message left on Carter's cell phone by Petitioner's sister, Nanette. The prosecution responded that it would not offer the call directly, planning only to use it for impeachment if the defense called Nanette as a witness. During the trial, the prosecution called Carter as its only identification witness and also called four police officers involved in the investigation. After the prosecution rested, the defense called 911 dispatcher Allen Lewis and then called Nanette.

Nanette testified that a week after her brother's arrest, she got Carter's phone number from some of her brother's arrest paperwork. She then called Carter, and left a message when he failed to pick up the phone. Carter returned her call the following day, and they had a conversation in which Nanette asked Carter what had happened. At this point in Nanette's testimony, the prosecution objected and a sidebar was held. Defense counsel indicated that Nanette would testify that in this conversation, Carter had told her that he did not see the face of the person who stole his car at gunpoint and had in fact only picked Petitioner out of the lineup based on the clothing he was wearing. The trial court sustained the prosecution's objection and disallowed this testimony, ruling that the proper foundation to impeach Carter with a prior inconsistent statement had not been laid because defense counsel had not questioned Carter about the conversation in question (presumably due to the defense's own pretrial request to bar evidence of the call).

After the close of evidence, defense counsel requested that the jury be instructed on the lesser included offense of possession of a stolen vehicle. The court denied this request, after which the jury found Petitioner guilty of aggravated hijacking. Defendant was sentenced to natural life in prison.

Procedural Background

On direct appeal, Petitioner argued that: (1) the trial court failed to give the jury an instruction on the lesser included offense of possessing a stolen vehicle; (2) trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to ask Carter about his conversation with Nanette and thereby forfeiting potential impeachment material; and (3) the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction because the state's only evidence was a single eyewitness and his testimony was inconsistent. (Gov't Ex. A.) On July 11, 2008, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed Petitioner's conviction, rejecting all three of his claims on the merits. (Gov't Ex. D.)

Petitioner then filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal ("PLA") to the Illinois Supreme Court. This PLA raised only Petitioner's claims relating to ineffective assistance of counsel and the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury on a lesser included offense; Petitioner did not renew his sufficiency of the evidence argument. (Gov't Ex. E.) The ...


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